Delaware News

County health district takes stand against obesity

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If you work on the second floor of your office, a small reminder to take the stairs could pay off in the long run.

The Delaware General Health District hopes employers will post such reminders. It's one among dozens of suggestions the health district has for businesses, schools and community groups in a renewed fight against obesity.

This month, the district introduced a new countywide obesity-prevention plan that targets residents of all ages.

Health officials said it's hard to get people to change their lifestyles, but small changes, such as asking employers or school officials to stock healthful snacks in vending machines, are steps in the right direction.

"These are easy-to-implement strategies that are proven to work," said Kelly Bragg, chairwoman of the new Delaware County Obesity Coalition.

The new campaign hopes to encourage exercise and healthful eating by making those options more accessible, even for residents with limited time and money, Bragg said.

Those efforts are needed more than ever in Delaware County, said Connie Codispoti, public health dietitian with the health district.

A 2008 Ohio Department of Health report showed 65 percent of Delaware County adults were overweight or obese, and a 2010 report identifies 30.5 percent of Delaware County preschoolers ages 2-5 as overweight. The numbers in both categories are higher than state averages.

Overall, Ohio ranks in the top 20 among the nation's most obese states.

Overweight individuals suffer from much higher incidences of chronic disease, Codispoti said.

"This is not an easy fix," she said. "As a health department, we recognize that you have to look at all sectors of the community to begin to reverse this trend."

The health district is reaching out to employers, schools and other groups with a long list of recommended changes.

The district recommends businesses implement incentive programs for employees who maintain good health. Businesses also are urged to make healthful food choices more affordable and available in cafeterias, and to post positive messages about the benefits of diet and exercise around the workplace.

Health district officials also are reaching out to local governments to expand walking trails, make roads more bike-friendly, and restrict the sale of fatty foods near schools and playgrounds.

They're also calling on schools and child-care centers to take a proactive approach to creating after-school physical-fitness programs, encouraging consumption of fruits and vegetables at lunch, and educating students about the benefits of a balanced diet.

The health district will track implementation of those recommendations and many more in the coming years. Bragg said she hopes to see many of the changes enacted by 2016.

To increase the chances of success, she is recruiting individuals as part of a countywide coalition. It includes government officials, park officials, healthcare providers, school district employees and more.

"The coalition is really representative of the community as a whole," Bragg said. "They will be the ones taking the plan and implementing these goals and strategies in their communities."

For more information about the plan, visit the website gohealthydelaware.org.

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